Wednesday, June 12, 2013

School Closings, But Not the Fun Kind

Pennsylvania Constitution
Article III, Sec. 14
The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.

Of course, if Pennsylvania's school boards have anything to do with it, there may not be a public school system left to maintain.  Only yesterday students, parents, and teachers of the Altoona Area School District listened on sadly as they heard the result of the school board's decision regarding Washington-Jefferson and Wright Elementary Schools.  The board voted to close both schools

For the last few months parents and teachers, not just of Wright and Washington-Jefferson but, of elementary schools all over Altoona have been wondering and pondering and worrying about the effects of this decision, this decision that we all knew was going to be made.  My own son just finished his kindergarten year at Baker Elementary School.  Parents and teachers alike at Baker have been concerned about the effect of these school closings on Baker's class sizes.  During the last week of school this year, Baker's computer lab was dismantled to make space for another classroom.  

It's not just Altoona that is concerned about school closings, however.  Just the other day, under protest of parents, teachers, and students, officials closed 23 Philadelphia schools.  These weren't all low-performing schools.  Some of these schools have made vast improvements in educational standards, nevertheless, Mayor Nutter is comfortable closing these schools.  He's comfortable with the lay-off of almost 4,000 staff and teachers.  While Philadelphia is busy closing schools with one hand, the other will be investing $400 million in the building of a brand new prison.  

Schools across Pennsylvania face similar problems.  From Millcreek to Pennsbury and Snyder County to Pottstown, parents and teachers and students are looking at the not-so-pleasant future of public education in Pennsylvania.  They're faced with school boards filled with people bent on fulfilling their own prophecies of how ineffective our public education system is.  There's a difference between keeping a balanced budget and cutting and slashing until schools are falling apart at the seams.  Unfortunately, that's just what many school boards are doing.  This is, of course, nothing new.  Even years ago when I was in grade school I remember my school board trying to shut down my school's music program in the name of lower costs.  

I've got news for school boards: you're not running an investment firm.  At least, not the kind that deals with earning monetary profits.  You're in charge of investing in our children's futures.  This isn't the real estate business either.  Selling a school never netted anyone the kind of profit that made it worthwhile to the children that used to attend it.  

Still, the students of Altoona's elementary schools and students across Pennsylvania will start next school year in unsure circumstances.  I know that Pennsylvania's public school teachers will do everything they can to give our children a quality education.  The question is, what will our school boards do?